In the absence of anything live, let’s go back in the past!
- On the Piste – Garrick Theatre, London, 27th March 1993
It had been 37 months since we’d last seen a live performance. Hard work, poverty and debt got in the way. But we broke our fast with this comedy by John Godber, who could always be relied on to get laughs out of a sea of difficulties. On the Piste had been the name of a hilarious BBC documentary following the fortunes of first time British skiers in the snowy resort of Söll in the Tyrol, and Godber used it for his own dramatized version. I don’t have many memories of it, but I know it was a good laugh. Paul Bown and Ivan Kaye led the cast.
- On the Ledge – Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre, London, 24th April 1993
Alan Bleasdale’s dark comedy featured the late great Gary Olsen as a philosophical fireman trying to save the lives of a number of people who have gathered on a rooftop to throw themselves off. Sounds like a huge laugh, doesn’t it? I’m not sure it’s stood the test of time. However, I remember enjoying it, and the great cast also included Mark McGann, Dearbhla Molloy, Alan Igbon, Jimmy Mulville and The Young Ones’ Christopher Ryan.
- An Evening with Gary Lineker – Oxford Playhouse, 7th May 1993
Arthur Smith and Chris England’s comedy had enjoyed a successful run in London and we caught it on its post-West End tour. Another rather savage comedy, it concerned a relationship background set against watching the matches of the 1990 Football World Cup. The excellent cast included Eastenders’ Lofty, Tom Watt. I enjoyed it; although I remember thinking it lacked a certain something.
- Absurd Person Singular – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 26th March 1994
Skipping past a thoroughly enjoyable evening with Pam Ayres at the Civic Centre Aylesbury, our next play was also our first visit to a favourite theatre that would become our local for almost the next fifteen years. This revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1972 comedy, that observes three couples shredding each other over three successive Christmas Eves, boasted a stellar cast headed by Francis Matthews, with The Two of Us’s Janet Dibley, Waiting for God’s Daniel Hill, Georgina Hale and Liza Tarbuck. Excellent production and a very funny play. An interesting choice for our wedding anniversary!
- Shadowlands – Oxford Playhouse, 25th October 1994
Moving past the amateur production of As You Like it at that year’s Pendley Festival, our next play was William Nicholson’s moving, sensitive, but slow account of the life (and death) of the writer C S Lewis. Central to the play was a great performance by Anton Rodgers as the man himself. We took Mrs C’s boss’s boss to see it, a trendy young guy visiting from Boston, Massachusetts. His comment at the end of it? Gee, you Brits are so maudlin! Kind of sums it up.
- Salad Days – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 30th September 1995
Almost a year passed (which included seeing Pendley’s Much Ado About Nothing in August) until we caught this delightful touring production of Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade’s “enchanting musical of the 50s” which I sense was already deliberately dated when it was written. It was a terrific show though, directed by Ned Sherrin, featuring all those great old feelgood songs. Starring Kit and the Widow (better known now as Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Richard Sisson), it also featured musical theatre stalwarts like Gay Soper, Barry James and Edward Baker-Duly. Smashing stuff.
- Rambert Dance Company Autumn/Winter Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 3rd and 5th October 1995
Two visits to see Rambert’s tour so that we could see both programmes. Rambert’s company at the time was crammed with fantastic dancers – Paul Liburd, Laurent Cavanna, Hope Muir, Steven Brett, Vincent Redmon, Glenn Wilkinson, Rafael Bonachela, Simon Cooper, Christopher Powney, and my favourite at the time, Marie-Laure Agrapart. The first programme started with Matthew Hawkins’ Dancing Attendance on the Cultural Chasm, then the recently late Robert Cohan’s Stabat Mater, Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, and Ohad Naharin’s crowd-pleasing Axioma 7. The second programme was even more thrilling, with Mark Baldwin’s Banter Banter, followed by two of Christopher Bruce’s finest works, Swansong and Rooster. Unforgettable nights of dance.
- Riverdance – Apollo Hammersmith, London, 27th October 1995
As a Eurovision fan, we had to go and see the show that arose from the stunning interval act of the 1994 contest. The original music and dance from that first airing were already the stuff of legend, and it was successfully expanded into this full scale extravaganza, which starred the original dancer, the wonderful Jean Butler, and in the Michael Flatley role, Colin Dunne. Superb spectacular; maybe – just maybe – extending it to a full length show was a bit of a stretch. But it’s a show that has its own life force and still refuses to go away.
- A Little Night Music – Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London, 30th December 1995
Passing over a return visit to see Blood Brothers at the Oxford Apollo (this time with Clodagh Rodgers and David Cassidy in the cast, both brilliant) our next show was the much anticipated revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with Judi Dench as Desiree and Sian Phillips as Madame Armfeldt. A tremendous production by Sean Mathias, the cast also included Patricia Hodge, Joanna Riding and Issy van Randwyck. My Christmas present from Mrs C, we had seats right at the far end of row D; not the best view (but it was all we could afford) but it did give us a chance to spot the practical joke that Dame Judi played on Laurence Guittard, playing Egerman. At one point she turns her back to the audience to disrobe her top and (apparently) show him her fine chest. She wears an opaque body covering of course, but we could see that she had written on it in big letters HAPPY NEW YEAR so when he gasps with pleasure at her seeming nakedness he had to stifle an enormous guffaw. Very funny!
- Communicating Doors – Savoy Theatre, London, 3rd February 1996
Alan Ayckbourn’s beautifully inventive and hilarious time-travelling comedy had just transferred to the Savoy from the Garrick, in a terrific production directed by the author himself. An excellent cast was led by Angela Thorne, and I remember we both thought it was extremely funny and incredibly thought-provoking. Definitely one of his best!